TCU students learned about the life of two workers from the Alta Gracia Factory—the world’s first living-wage college apparel factory that produces clothing found in the TCU Bookstore.
Maritza Vargas and Sobeida Fortuna, of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, spoke Sept. 29 about Alta Gracia Factory’s employee unionization, the conditions of the factory and the impact it has made on their lives.
Fontana said she was working under intense conditions at a previous factory while she was pregnant.
“The [management] would control my every motion, down to how often I would use the restroom or how often I would drink water,” Fontana said. “If I did it more than three times, they would write me up and I would be in trouble.”
Vargas said management didn’t accept the union and immediately fired the workers after the union was created.
“We had to seek support,” Vargas said. “This support came from universities, it came from students, it came from a group called United Students Against Sweatshops, it came from the Worker Rights Consortium that we were able to organize and hold our factory accountable.”
Instructor in geography Sean Crotty, Ph.D., said he thinks this event is important from a marketing standpoint, and provides more information to students about what their money goes toward in the clothing production process.
Sophomore elementary education major Kaitlin Barry said she was excited that students got an opportunity to hear the workers’ stories.
“Now when I’m shopping in our bookstore and looking at the labels, I’ll be more mindful of where they come from and the worker conditions that they are made under,” Barry said.
Crotty added, “Hopefully it humanizes the process to some extent, and I hope it’s not too much of a burden for the workers to come here and do this.”
According to a press release, the workers make three times the minimum wage and make more than $500 a month, while the average Dominican Republic garment factory worker makes $150 a month.
Vargas and Fortuna said the wage increase has made a huge impact on their families.
“Now that I work at Alta Gracia, all of my children are going to school,” Fortuna said. “I have enough money to buy them humane nutrition, the kind of nutrition every person deserves.”
Vargas said she is full of pride because they are making something full of value.
“I can see that, that value is being appreciated because what we really make is with a lot of love,” Vargas said.
Rachel Taber, the translator and one of the hosts of the women, translated from Spanish to English for Vargas and Fortuna during the event.
The event was presented by the TCU Department of Interior Design and Fashion Merchandising, Solidarity Ignite and TCU Quality Enhancement Plan.